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Viennese Actionism

Artists' movement

1962 in Vienna
1970 in Vienna


At the beginning of the 1960s a group of artists in Vienna developed forms of artistic action which broke down the genre boundaries of painting. Starting from the American Action Painting movement, which saw the physical act of painting as a central aspect of a work, the Vienna Actionists dedicated themselves to extreme performances. In 1962, Hermann Nitsch staged the performance Die Blutorgel (The Blood Organ) together with Otto Muehl and Adolf Frohner, in which, for example, red paint was replaced by the real blood of a dead lamb which had been disembowelled and ripped apart in front of the audience. Pseudo-ritual events, which recalled cult ceremonies, sacrificial rites and medieval mystery plays, made use of real means to progress the gestural-expressive element of the Art Informel of the post-war years. Nitsch, Mühl, Günther Brus and Rudolf Schwarzkogler used entrails, animal cadavers and excrement for their unbridled material actions. Within the framework of “abreaction dramas” performed in public or in front of a camera, they staged crucifixions and other aggressive actions towards objects or the human body. By means of a direct sensuous and mental confrontation they compelled the public to participate. Viennese Actionism attacked the compulsions of consumerism, narrow sexual morality and other repressive aspects of society. VALIE EXPORT, who is often named within the context of Viennese Actionism, demonstrates the misogynist tendencies of society through the radical use of her body. In their attempt to reveal contradictions and to provoke discussion, the artists who practise Action Art are not only actors and projection surfaces, but also the material and the object of their art.

Persons belonging to Viennese Actionism